I believe that we live in a Keatsian world—one which is a vale not of tears but of soul making—we come to the earth unformed and without shape—definition with an identity that is given to us in part –the less interesting part—and one we get to shape. As Keats says in a famous letter to his brother who left England to live in America “I will call the world a School instituted for the purpose of teaching little children to read-I will call the human heart the horn Book used in that School-and I will call the Child able to -read, the Soul made from that School and its hornbook. Do you not see how necessary a World of Pains and troubles is to school an Intelligence and make it a Soul? A Place where the heart must feel and suffer in a thousand diverse ways! Not merely is the Heart a Hornbook, It is the Minds Bible, it is the Minds experience, it is the teat from which the Mind or intelligence sucks its identity.” You don’t have to belong to any religion to accept that Keats has got his mind around a key truth about the world and its mysterious ways. Using a different metaphor, one that makes the process of soul making less passive, we could see our journey as similar to the challenge an author faces who has to find a way to lead his or her characters through a number of challenges to reveal the story’s meaning. The dizzying thing about it—is that we play at different times in our journey both author and the character we have given birth to. As authors we think we are in control of our lives –we know who we are and what our destiny is as we go to school, college and trying to get our first job—but the characters we have become turn out to know more than we do. As the Rolling Stones made clear there is a difference between what the soul in this case thinks it wants and what it needs. We constantly encounter the choices between the two—what the mind says we want and what the soul really needs. Each part keeps moving the narrative along, then the unfortunate thing is that round about in our thirties or forties –one partner –the mind or the soul—can fall out of rhythm, slow down or stop altogether. Usually it is because we want to get out of this endless play between want and need, mind and soul and opt for something a little more predictable—we settle for the steady job, the stable lifestyle and then we can choose to become a bit less interesting to ourselves and other people. We have felt the hard knocks and pain that come from a risk taken, illness, accident, a failed relationship or just an unwise bet, we have seen suffering and felt our soul making equipment falter. How to keep the spirit of imagination, creativity and soul alive when our tired old mind says it wants out of the game? How to reignite the soul’s passion, that creative rebellious self that did not know what it knew or what it should be afraid of—how to keep in other words the dialogue going between mind and soul? To continue to be fully alive we need to be connected to the world—keep engaging and reengaging it — not our own dull perception of it—but the real thing. How we define that real thing has been the work of a lifetime it can be the people in our lives we truly care about-the causes we are passionate about—the dreams and creative ideas that shaped our imagination when we were young. It takes a lot more energy to do this when you hit mid life—but to settle down and refuse to fight is a form of death and we compromise ourselves and our purpose when we lay down in our easy chair and say that effort is for others. It is the inescapable never ending battle to define and create ourselves that is the enduring reason to live. As Keats says in illuminating language-“There may be intelligences or sparks of the divinity in millions-but they are not Souls till they acquire identities, till each one is personally itself.” We are always in the world of becoming –ever forming, ever changing –when we cease to find the energy to enter the world fully ready to encounter its pains and its suffering and hopes we suffer a form of death.
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